King Jong-un
Kim Jong-un and his wife Ri Sol-ju visit Runga People's Pleasure Ground in Pyongyang (Reuters)

The wife of Kim Jong-un is a former singer who first caught the North Korean leader's eye during a musical performance, according to South Korean media.

State television revealed that the young woman who had been recently photographed with the leader was his wife, Ri Sol-ju, confirming rumours about the pair's relationship.

Ri began appearing with Kim only in public in recent months, with her proximity to him suggesting that their relationship was more than professional.

Originally she was named as singer Hyon Song-wol, who was famous in the country for her patriotic pop songs, including Excellent Horse-like Lady. It is thought that Hyon may have simply been Ri's stage name.

South Korea's Yonhap News Agency claim that Ri was specially trained over six months to become Kim's consort, but it was not until she performed for him and his father, the late Kim Jong-il, on New Years Eve 2010, that he chose her.

"There is a possibility Jong-un chose her as his wife after seeing her at the concert hall," a source said.

Oher South Korean media sources claim that the pair were married by 2009.

All commentators appear to agree that the couple's public appearances - not a traditional sight in North Korea where wives do not appear next to their husbands - suggest that Kim is making a statement about openness.

"Kim Jong-un is breaking with his father's secrecy-shrouded leadership," Lim Eul-chul, a North Korea expert at South Korea's Kyungnam University, told Associated Press.

"The revelation of his wife is a sign that Kim wants to show a more open relationship."

Ahn Chan-il, a political scientist at the World Institute for North Korea Studies in South Korea, said the revelation implied that Kim was heading towards a more "Western style" of leadership.

Kim and Ri most recently appeared together during the opening ceremony of Runga People's Pleasure Ground in Pyongyang, with the leader, thought to be in his 20s, enjoying a ride on a roller coaster.

These public appearances appear to fly in the face of Kim Jong-il's typically sombre and secretive style. Over his 17-year rule his family and personal relationships were kept under wraps.

Chronic food shortages

The rumours surrounding the personal life of the country's leader may serve to draw focus away from the more serious issues faced by the country's people. A recent UN report claims that as many as two thirds of its 24 million people are struggling with chronic food shortages and access to clean water.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland gave a wry nod in the direction of the marriage, while claiming that the country's people remained the primary concern.

"We would always wish any kind of newlyweds well as they embark on married life. But our concerns first and foremost are for the North Korean people, and our hope that conditions for them will improve."

Kim Jong-un and Ri Sol-ju have appeared together in public a number of times (Reuters)